Algiers, Asharq Al-Awsat- Algerian security sources have said that 10 gunmen belonging to the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb [AQLIM] have surrendered to the authorities in two batches and that some of them mentioned recent armed clashes between gunmen that refuse to give up terrorism and some comrades of theirs that have expressed the wish to surrender. All of them had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to terms ranging from 20 years in prison to execution. The sources said that it is likely that these gunmen will benefit from new anticipated calming measures that were paved for by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika when he called them “a conditional general amnesty”.
The security sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that six elements from the AQLIM entered Algerian soil at dawn Tuesday crossing from a country on the African coast. The sources said that the gunmen are part of the “Katibat al-Mulathamin” [The Masked Brigade] led by Mukhtar Belmukhtar, one of the most notorious terrorists on the list of wanted both by the United States and the United Nations. The sources added that the six men are implicated in the abduction of the two Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Gay last February in the Niger desert. These were released after a three-month abduction in return for the release of four members of the terrorist organization holding Mauritanian and Algerian nationalities that were under arrest in Mali. The sources cited the six gunmen as saying that they left the armed group without the knowledge of its leader Belmukhtar, also known as Khaled Abu al-Abbas who planned and carried out himself the abduction of the envoy of the United Nations secretary general to Niger, his assistant, and his Niger driver. The six, that include one who is close to Belmukhtar, asked to benefit from the “reconciliation” measures whose deadline ended in August 2006 six months after they were issued. The security sources said that it is likely that they will be included in the “general amnesty” that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to issue before his third term in office (2009-2014) ended on condition that all the gunmen surrender voluntarily and hand in their weapons.
Four other armed men gave themselves up at the beginning of this week in the Sidi Ali Bunab in Boumerdes Province (45 kilometers east of the capital). This region is considered a center of activity for the armed salafis and the source of most of the terrorist operations that take place in Boumerdes. The same sources said that the four told the security authorities that armed skirmishes occurred last week between gunmen that refuse to give up terrorism and comrades of theirs that have expressed the desire to join the “reconciliation”. According to one of the surrendering gunmen, the clashes led to dead or wounded. The gunmen were also cited as saying that the armed organization is finding it more and more difficult to persuade people to join their ranks. According to them, this explains why terrorist activities have diminished in comparison with the past period.